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EU sues Germany over lack of whistleblower protections

February 15, 2023

Germany is among eight EU members that have been referred to the European Court of Justice for failure to implement the bloc's directives on protecting whistleblowers.

People protest outside the courthouse ahead of the LuxLeaks trial before an appeal court in Luxembourg
The EU is taking legal action against eight member states over failing to create adequate laws that protect whistleblowersImage: Yves Herman/REUTERS

The European Commission on Wednesday said that eight of the bloc's member states would be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ)  for failure to comply with EU law when it came to the protection of whistleblowers.

The Commission said Germany, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Hungary and Poland had not implemented rules designed to give whistleblowers in public and private sectors mechanisms to disclose wrongdoing.

What is the EU's whistleblower directive?

In December 2019, a directive on the protection of people reporting breaches of EU law came into effect, which established a legal framework for whistleblower protection.

The bloc's 27 member states were given until December 2021 to pass national legislation and comply with the EU directive.

In January last year, the Commission issued letters of formal notice to 24 member states "for not fully transposing and informing the Commission of the transposition measures before the deadline."

Further steps were then taken against 15 member states for failure to implement its directive, and they were given two months to respond.

The Commission found the response of eight member states to be unsatisfactory and the decision was made to refer the member states to Europe's top court.

The push for whistleblower protections in the EU came in the wake of the Panama Paper tax evasion scandal, as well as Facebook user data leaks.

Whistleblowing: Speaking truth to power

Draft law on whistleblowers blocked in Germany

Earlier this month a draft law to introduce protective measures for whistleblowers in Germany was brought to a halt by the conservative opposition in the Bundesrat, the upper chamber of Germany's parliament.

The law would have seen companies with 50 or more employees obliged to establish a mechanism by which whistleblowers could reveal problems or criminal activity without fear of reprisals.

The conservative opposition bloc of the Christian Democratic and the Christian Social Unions (CDU/CSU) voted against the proposals — as the parties already had done in the Bundestag, the lower chamber.

For any law to come into effect, it must be passed by both chambers and signed by the German president.

Civil society groups condemned the outcome, with the chair of the Wistleblower-Netzwerk association, Annegret Falter saying it would damage democracy, rule of law and the German economy.

The Bundestag now has the option of amending the law to seek a compromise with the Bundesrat.

kb/rs (Reuters, dpa)